In the June 12, 2012, Commissioner's Meeting, I was encouraged to hear that the Commissioners Court was considering a refinancing instrument which could, in effect, lower taxpayer interest payments on our $6+ million outstanding debt by about $130,000 annually or over $2 million over its remaining life through 2029. It sounded like a good deal. In that meeting, it also appeared that our 'sinking fund' might further be used to reduce that debt. As a conservative who hates to owe money, my thoughts were, "Why not use the sinking fund to lower our total debt?" "Why not look at reducing the life of the loan and paying it off early?" "How did the proposal made by these financial advisors compare with others the county judge might have received?" While I had these questions, I left that meeting feeling that taxpayers might get some relief and hoping that the commissioners were evaluating the financial proposal with Blanco County citizens' interests in mind.
But then, I attended the June 26, 2012, Special Commissioners Meeting. At that meeting, the commissioners (1) voted to give the financial business to the recommending financial advisor firm without a competitive bid, (2) listened as the financial advisors told the County how they could take the 'savings' and incur more debt and then (3) voted to incur about an additional $2 million in debt for unspecified Roads/Bridges - and doing so using a procedure which avoids asking the voters.
The logic appeared to be: Our payments for the old and new debts combined won't be any more than our current payment. This is exactly the same type of thinking that gets many credit card holders in deeper debt! What I did NOT hear in that meeting were (1) alternatives, like reducing the loan amount and/or length of our current debt and reviewing our unreserved-fund balance (which contains approximately $3 million) for possible overage, (2) considering what the voters would want, or (3) any comprehensive plan regarding what proposed roads/bridges would be built or where. Incurring an additional $2 million debt within about a two month period from a first meeting with these financial advisors to a vote seems like a hasty decision.
So, how can the county government bypass the voters on a bond debt? It is called a Certificate of Obligation and avoids a bond election, which is what was done when the Commissioners Court incurred our $6.5 million debt in 2009. Procedurally, in the next two weeks' local papers, the County will run ads advertising their intent to issue Certificates of Obligation along with the time and place tentatively set for passage. If prior to that time, a petition is presented by at least five percent of the qualified voters protesting the issuance of the certificates, an election must be held and conducted as in a bond election. Texas citizens have routinely used petitions to force local government to reevaluate proposed debt, when done without voter input. While a petition is a viable and achievable option for Blanco County voters, I ask that the County Commissioners reevaluate and reverse their rush to incur more debt, look at conservative alternatives, review upcoming departmental budget needs, provide more information to citizens, provide public forms for citizens to provide input and do a little long range planning in order to avoid adding additional debt to Blanco County citizens. When county expenses increase at a faster rate than the source of all available county revenues, EVERY property owner in this county will see an increase in tax rates and each should have a voice .